So let’s talk about… poo! Diarrhea is one of the most common reasons pet parents take their dog to the vet. Every pet parent has been there at one point in time or other and let’s hope that it was not on your white carpet. It is a symptom of an underlying issue and can range from mild to severe depending upon the underlying cause. What you should know is that dog diarrhea, no matter what the cause can be very serious, especially in puppies. So let’s explore the question: My dog has diarrhea.
What exactly is diarrhea?
Diarrhea is a condition characterized by the dog having loose stools which have passed rapidly through the gastrointestinal tract. The dog’s stool can be liquid, semiliquid, or even formed but with insufficient water content to give it the usual shape and consistency of feces. Below is a visual aid of the dog’s stool (gross I know) to help you gauge the type of diarrhea.
Types of Diarrhea
An important question your vet may ask is how long diarrhea has been going on as it is classified in several ways:
Acute diarrhea is sudden in onset and typically lasts a few hours to a few days (anyone had a GI bug before?)
When it has been going on for 3 days or longer
Small bowel diarrhea
Small-bowel diarrhea arises, from the small intestine and is characterized by:
- Diarrhea with a normal to slightly increased frequency (2-3 times per day)
- The stool can be fatty and foamy
- Your dog may pass wind
- There is rarely any straining to defecate.
Large bowel diarrhea
Occurs in the large intestine and/or colon and is characterized by:
- Increased frequency (more than 3 times per day)
- Diarrhea is often accompanied by straining to defecate.
- May have mucous or blood
Different colors of diarrhea in dogs
The color and appearance of diarrhea can tell you a lot about what is causing it. The different colors include:
- Blue stool indicates your dog has eaten rat poison which means you should treat it as an emergency and take your canine to your nearest emergency animal hospital if your vet is closed.
- Yellow stool: The most common cause of yellow diarrhea is a bacterial overgrowth or a very bland diet such as chicken and white rice.
- Green stool can be indicative of a problem in the GI tract due to some new treat, table food, or plant toxicity.
- Black stool usually means bleeding in the upper portion of the intestines or stomach(resulting in digested blood which turns black) and it can result from medication toxicity, ulcers, or foreign bodies. Other causes include liver disease or parasites.
- Bloody diarrhea is caused by bleeding into the large intestine or colon such as colitis. If diarrhea has a lot of blood take your dog to the vet straight away
Causes of your dog’s diarrhea
As a responsible dog owner, you should always keep track of your dog’s stool and keep notice of the stool’s color, smell, consistency, and frequency.
Some of the most common causes of diarrhea include:
- Anxiety or stress. Stress diarrhea is surprisingly common in dogs, as it is in humans!
- Dietary indiscretion: Eating garbage, fatty foods, table scraps or spoiled food can often result in the runs
- Sudden dietary changes can cause a disruption in the gastrointestinal biome
- Infectious diseases such as canine parvovirus. Parvo is an extremely serious disease in young puppies and is covered in depth here
- Bacteria such as Salmonella. Dogs can get Salmonella from consuming contaminated food or, more commonly from a raw diet
- Intestinal parasites such as hookworms, roundworms, and whipworms and other parasites like Giardia
- Poisonous plants and other toxins such as chocolate
- Drugs and Human medications such as nonsteroidal (ibuprofen is toxic to dogs)
- Ingesting a toy or cloth which can cause a foreign body and a painful blockage
- Adverse reactions to food or food allergies
- Chronic gastrointestinal issues such as inflammatory bowel disease and exocrine pancreatic insufficiency
Mild diarrhea: home remedies
More often than not, your dog’s diarrhea, if mild, will recover on its own. If your canine companion is acting normal during mild bouts of diarrhea with no other symptoms, then you can try treating it at home.
You should never use your own human medications on your pets. Only administer medications as prescribed by your veterinarian. But here we some suggestions for managing mild diarrhea at home:
- You can try feeding them a highly digestible bland diet. Combine a simple cooked lean protein such as chicken breast, beef, ground lean beef, or cooked eggs and a simple carbohydrate such as white or brown rice, pasta, or sweet potatoes)
- Feed small, frequent meals to help to heal the GI tract (the cells in the intestine need food otherwise they will slough off and die) but do not overwhelm it with large meals. Please only feed this for a short period of time (2-3 days) as “bland” diets lack the adequate nutrition and electrolytes your dog needs to stay healthy.
- Plain pumpkin can be a great source of fiber. Add a tablespoon of canned pumpkin.
- You can also give your dog commercially prepared food for sensitive stomachs in place of their regular food. The best place to purchase these is from your vet clinic.
- Probiotics may help (although there is very little evidence of this) – but you will need to purchase a dog-specific strain from your vet or pet store. Natural yogurt will not help. Dogs are lactose intolerant and there is no evidence that yogurt helps treat diarrhea in dogs
- Prebiotic fibers such as psyllium (found in unflavored Metamucil) can help restore the gut microbiome. A teaspoon of original flavored Metamucil mixed into their canned food may help them recover faster.
- Make sure your dog is drinking plenty of water
When to seek veterinary attention?
If you see diarrhea once or twice and your dog is happy and eating and drinking well you most likely do not need to see the vet. If your pet’s symptoms begin to worsen, or you see increased episodes of diarrhea you should seek veterinary medical advice. Some of the following symptoms include:
- When your dog is low on energy or extremely lethargic.
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- If you have witnessed your dog ingesting a toxic plant or substance such as ibuprofen or chocolate. Take your dog to the nearest emergency animal hospital for swift treatment
- Bloody diarrhea or fresh blood in the stool – this could indicate your pet has a serious condition like parvo or hemorrhagic gastroenteritis so seek advice immediately
- When diarrhea looks blackish in color – this could indicate digested blood from the small intestine.
- Ingestion of a foreign object: this is a serious concern
- If you spot worms in the dog stool.
- If diarrhea has prolonged for more than two days and is not resolving
- If your dog is not drinking enough water or seems hydrated
If your dog’s diarrhea is persistent or if you notice any of the conditions described above, contact your vet right away.
What is the veterinarian most likely to do?
Your dog will have a complete physical examination. Your vet will also need to know what your dog ate if anything unusual was ingested recently (such as chocolate, etc.), vaccination history, etc.
They may take a fecal sample and examine it under the microscope to look for parasites.
They may do an X-ray to look at your dog’s intestinal tract or perform other specialized tests if the dog has eaten material that requires further evaluation (such as rat poison, plant toxicity, etc.)
Treatments will vary greatly depending on what the diagnosis is and will likely include medications, probiotics, and a special diet.
Diarrhea cannot be prevented in all cases but it can be reduced by sticking to the following things:
- A properly balanced diet is important to keep your canine companion healthy. Choose a high-quality diet that is right for your dog.
- Make sure your garden does not contain toxic plants.
- Avoid stressful situations for your dog if they suffer from stress diarrhea. There are special diets for dogs that suffer from this condition so ask your vet about the options.
- Do not let your dog eat fatty foods or spoiled food. Thanksgiving and Christmas are common times for this to occur!
- Hard bones should not be included in the dog’s diet as it causes bowel irritation and diarrhea
- Keep your canine friend up to date on their vaccinations and deworm regularly
If your dog is suffering from diarrhea make sure to contact your vet for a proper diagnosis. Your dog should be seen by your vet as soon as possible if it is suffering from diarrhea that is more severe or has been going on for more than a couple of days. It is always best to try to prevent your pooch from getting diarrhea but just because your dog has diarrhea doesn’t mean you have failed as a dog owner – sometimes diarrhea happens! Thanks for reading and I hope you found this article useful.
Dr. Elly has always loved animals, and she knew from a young age that she wanted to be a veterinarian. After studying hard in veterinary school, she practiced in several different countries before moving to North Carolina with her husband and young family. She currently works part time as a veterinarian while caring for her 4 busy children and writing this blog. Dr. Elly genuinely cares about the welfare of her patients. She currently has three dogs, two cats, 5 chickens and 2 rabbits (yes a bit of a zoo!)